All entries for Friday 22 October 2004

October 22, 2004

Review: West Wing Series 6

[This article contains some spoilers – for people who are up to series 5 and also those who have watched series 6 episode 1]

The West Wing returned to US screens on Wednesday after a 6 month break. If you're not familiar with the West Wing, then get your nose out of your Computer Science text book and join the fun. Not to be confused with Green Wing, a new Channel 4 comedy which looks like turd, The West Wing is NBC's Presidential drama set in the White House of President Josiah Bartlett, an idealist that makes Noam Chomsky look like a hawk.

Created just prior to the 2000 'actual' US election, creator Aaron Sorkin decided on a lovely airy fairy liberal to run the dramatised US, which actually was probably the way to go. Try as hard as you like, it's just that much harder to empathise with Republicans. Not only are they more hard-nosed than their Democrat opponents, you just can't see them getting a bloody nose from the other side.

Series 1 set the scene of America dealing with all kinds of complicated legislation spoken about at 60 words a second, along with the character dramas (alcoholism, unrequited love) which kept it feeling real. It ended on a cliffhanger with an assassination attempt that nearly succeeds, and from then on The West Wing was somehow urgent, scared, introverted and pacey. Quite frankly, it was great.

3 consecutive Emmy awards later, and The West Wing took a bit of a jolt. Aaron Sorkin, who had written virtually everything for the first 4 years, announced he was leaving. In to replace him came John Wells, head of another NBC drama, ER. Unfortunately, this led to a bit of a soap opera, as medical emergency followed political emergency until the White House was in a permanent state of chaos. And so at the end of Series 5, broadcast earlier this year, one main character was on death's door, another minor character was dead and buried, and Bartlett was being persuaded by all his advisors to nuke the Middle East (well, nearly).

So Series 6 brings us to a bit of a turning point. Sadly artistic licence only goes so far, and Bartlett really can only serve two terms, which are nearly up. Wells and his team are having to think 'what next?' in terms of the series as a good story, and as a continuing ratings success. Ratings, incidentally are well off what they were in the first two years when TWW was one of the top two dramas in the US. It's now second just in its timeslot.

The immediate answer is to shake up the characters, with major upheaval planned in the next few weeks. Bartlett's right hand man, Leo McGarry is somehow going to be written out of most of the season (illness or a return to alcoholism are the expected reasons) and CJ, the brilliant press secretary is stepping up to No.2. This is somewhat strange, as she's probably about fifth in line, but episode one of the new series saw her as one of only two people backing the President's attempts to get peace in the Middle East. CJ is a great strong character played by Allison Janney (American Beauty), who is probably one of the most underrated actresses in the US (and that's after the Emmy awards).

Meanwhile, up steps the Deputy National Security Adviser to a main character role, as only the third new major character since the show began. No prizes for guessing that National Security's going to be a major theme then!

Other characters get shifted around, and there's a new Press Secretary and Personal Assistant to Bartlett coming into the show later this series.

But on the long-term front, Wells has brought in two American heavyweight actors who are expected to be the Bush/Kerry that scrap it out after Bartlett. One is Alan Alda (ER, Mash), and the other is Jimmy Smits (NYPD Blue or something like that). One republican, one democrat.

But there's a third winner in the inevitable election. And that's the viewers. Critics are fairly unanimous that The West Wing is off top form now, and that bringing in a whole new cast is unlikely to fix the problems with the writing and plotlines. So this third outcome would see the show, as well as Bartlett's presidency end. And to be honest, it's probably the right decision. As much as US TV networks love to create spin-off shows (Law and Order having numerous spin-offs), The West Wing is a slightly different kettle of fish.

British viewers may never find out though. Channel 4 don't really care much about the series any more (Series 4 is up against EastEnders in case you missed it in the schedules) and ratings here are slipping massively. The DVDs are up to Series 3, and so Series 6 seems a long way off. Without wishing to condone criminal activity, perhaps the only way we're going to see Series 6 onwards is through alternative channels.

Series 6 looks great so far – episode one was snappy, dramatic and tense. But the writers can't keep it up, and even if they could they're risking turning the show into a cop drama, with Bartlett as Chief and the rest of the world banged up to rights every episode. It's just time to admit that the show is over the hill, and its legacy will last longer if it's put back to bed soon.

Review: Super Size Me

5 out of 5 stars

Morgan Spurlock, a kind of politically less annoying Michael Moore, spends 120 minutes eating MacDonalds, and in the highlight of the film, being told that his liver is 'pate'.

I expected this film to be really narrative-driven, with loads of scenes where Morgan orders a bacon double cheeseburger, and then pukes up (only happens once). But the film turns out to actually be a documentary, while managing to avoid the polemical posturing of Moore.

MacDonalds are 'bad'. Their salads contain more calories than a Big Mac. They're crap. The burgers never actually look like they do in the advert. All this we kinda know before we watch the film. Which is where I expected Spurlock to fall flat on his arse, as he told us something we already knew.

But he doesn't. He gains a few stone, has barely functioning organs, and in the meantime tells us a lot about obesity in the US. The film is actually spot on. Part comedy, part documentary, part infotainment, Super Size Me is better than Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11 et al., because it's original. Spurlock doesn't preach. You kind of learn about obesity along with him. It's like Sesame Street in that respect. But it's bloody good entertainment and gets you thinking at the same time.

If Moore can win Oscars, then Spurlock definately deserves one. Only trouble is, after 2 hours of burgers, Coke, chips, waffles etc., you're gonna be craving a salty Maccy-D's really really badly!


So blogs.

A whole new world of opportunity and…..ah for feck's sake.

Considering I have a whole day off every week (shove that in your pipe, Science kids) I suppose I ought to do something constructive with it. And as any form of work is optional on a Politics BA, this seems fairly appropriate.

I'm drawn towards writing a long essay on the socio-economic reasons for Warwick wanting us to type rubbish into blogs (maybe it's so they can find out more about us – a kind of unconscious market research exercise). But I can't be arsed, and like many blogs I have no idea why anyone would want to read it.

But here I am, all signed up and ready to type whatever comes into my lazy social-'scientist', good-for-nothing, student loan-wasting brain.

Twitter Go to 'Twitter / chrisdoidge'

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